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Denver Museum to Return Totems to Kenyan Museum

Have you read the article featuring AAA members, Chip Colwell-Chanhaphonh (Denver Museum of Nature and Science), Linda Giles (Illinois Wesleyan U), Stephen Nash (Denver Museum of Nature and Science) and Monica Udvardy (U Kentucky), regarding the return of the totems to the National Museums of Kenya?

Here’s an excerpt:

Now, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says it has devised a way to return the 30 vigango it received as donations in 1990 from two Hollywood collectors, the actor Gene Hackman and the film producer Art Linson. The approach, museum officials say, balances the institution’s need to safeguard its collection and meet its fiduciary duties to benefactors and the public with the growing imperative to give sanctified objects back to tribal people.

“The process is often complicated, expensive and never straightforward,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the museum’s curator of anthropology. “But just because a museum is not legally required to return cultural property does not mean it lacks an ethical obligation to do so.”

The museum this month will deliver its 30 vigango (pronounced vee-GON-go; the singular form is kigango) to the National Museums of Kenya. Officials there will choose whether to display the objects, hunt through the nation’s hinterlands for their true owners and original sites, or allow them to decay slowly and ceremoniously, as was intended by their consecrators. Whatever they opt to do, Kenyan officials say, sovereignty over the objects should be theirs and not in the hands of foreign museums.  (The details of the transfer are still being negotiated.)

But repatriating them takes far more than addressing a parcel. No federal or international laws prevent Americans from owning the totems, while Kenyan law does not forbid their sale. And the Kenyan government says that finding which village or family consecrated a specific kigango is arduous, given that many were taken more than 30 years ago and that agricultural smallholders in Kenya are often nomadic.

Some 20 institutions in the United States own about 400 of the totems, according to Monica L. Udvardy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and an expert on Kenyan culture who has studied and tracked vigango for 30 years. She said that Kenyans believe that vigango are invested with divine powers and should never have been removed from their sites and treated as global art commodities. Kenyan officials have made constant pleas to have the objects sent back.

Read the entire article at The New York Times.

It’s time to vote in the 2013 Elections

Cast your vote by logging in to AnthroGateway, click on the “My Information” page, and then click on the “Vote Now!” button.

This month we’ll take a look at the candidates.

Today’s feature are the candidates for undesignated seat #3 of the Committee on Public Policy (CoPP). Committee member responsibilities include:

  1. To encourage sections and interest groups to develop policy-related activities that focus on particular areas of interest to their members, such as by interacting with section leadership and visiting business meetings, without infringing on the autonomy of these units;
  1. To enhance communication and cooperation between sections, interest groups, other elected committees, task forces, the AAA Public Affairs Office, and other parts of the AAA on policy issues that cross-cut particular domains, thereby encouraging links among their individual efforts. A key mechanism for realizing this goal is working with sections, interest groups, task forces, other AAA committees, and the AAA staff in organizing events for the AAA Annual Meeting, such as policy forums, particularly those that highlight issues that cross-cut specific policy domains;
  2. To enhance the visibility of anthropological contributions to public policy to audiences outside the AAA, including by creating opportunities for AAA members to enter into policy debates as well as to bring policy makers to AAA annual meetings and other sites in which they can interact with anthropologists;
To provide models for AAA members and units of effective participation in public policy, such as by placing examples of effective policy interventions on the COPP Web site and in contributions to Anthropology News and helping organize AAA sessions in which members reflect on their policy interventions and sponsor workshops and other events in which AAA members can gain relevant skills

Click here to learn more about the Committee on Public Policy.

Chip CCChip Colwell-Chanthaphonh

Anthropology has vital perspectives to contribute to public policy. From my work on protecting sacred sites, to museum repatriation, to the human rights of 9/11 families, I have become deeply aware of how sound public policies require the translation of anthropological insights. As a member of the Committee on Public Policy, I will be a keen advocate for the many policy issues confronting the AAA, and society, such as immigration law, climate change, education, economic equality, and health care. I pledge to help achieve our discipline’s aspirations particularly by ensuring the Committee continues to focus on fostering dialogues on the most pressing issues of our times, educating policy makers about anthropological contributions, and amplifying the impacts of AAA members who work in the arenas of practicing, applied, and public interest anthropology.

Tim_WallaceTim Wallace

In my role as the President of NAPA as well as a member of the Executive Board for the SfAA, and now as a member of the Executive Committee of the AAA Section Assembly, I have been able to work closely with a range of anthropologists and anthropological perspectives in understanding the issues facing anthropology and the need to make sure anthropological perspectives are included in the key public policy issues of our day, particularly in the areas of environmental sustainability, global warming, migration rights, human rights and social justice. Anthropologists must take an active role in the major issues that confront our globalized world. While the members of the AAA talk about the importance taking a principled stand, often we do not develop a sufficiently unified voice to confront the challenges to our world. The AAA is now at a critical juncture in our history where multiple agendas and priorities are emerging that sometimes appear conflicting. We must unify around a single voice to be effective. The Public Policy Committee is the essential forum where the AAA can develop a reasoned, practical response to these challenges. I am committed to working on the effective, timely and continuous production of activities and discussions that will accomplish this goal.

Log-in to AnthroGateway to vote today!


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